My Friend Selkie @ Dancebase

My Friend Selkie is a child-like delight that encourages audience interaction, and offers a charming introduction to Scottish folk tales

Review by Rosamund West | 14 Aug 2023
  • My Friend Selkie

Fresh from touring Scotland’s schools and village halls, What Moves You’s My Friend Selkie presents the tale of a little girl called Jo (Niamh O’Loughlin) and her seal friend Selkie (Laura Booth), told through music and dance, the soundtrack provided by Shooglenifty’s Quee MacArthur, who’s sat next to some fish boxes at the back playing on a mandolin. The set is simple yet evocative, a mapped floor of beach and sea, blue light backdrop, cloth rocks and scarf sandcastles plus, much to the delight of the child-critic accompanying me, a small number of real life shells.

The selkie, Scots for grey seal, is a concept suddenly familiar to any small child with a Netflix subscription thanks to one Puffin Rock. It also has a more complex mythology within the northern isles, a selkie being a seal who transforms into human form when she removes her skin. There are various disturbing folk tales about men finding and hiding a selkie’s skin, thereby compelling her to remain on land as his wife, living a life of misery, childbearing and longing for her true home, the sea.

It seems, at times (to those of us of a paranoid diposition), as though My Friend Selkie might follow the seal-skin-stealing tradition, as Jo repeatedly asks to borrow her friend’s skin so she can learn to swim better. Could this be a reference to the harrowing seal-woman-abduction folk tales? Luckily, *spoiler alert*, there is never truly any threat to Selkie’s skin. Jo asks to borrow it, Selkie says no, Jo respects Selkie’s boundaries, revealing once again that the children (and their early education in consent) are truly our hope for the future.

The production is a child-like delight, a gentle space where audience interaction is encouraged. The movement reflects their characters, Jo’s toddler-like gait interacting with Selkie’s sleeker, seal-like dance, as the duo meet and become friends. Jo wants to learn to swim (hence her designs on the seal skin), and Selkie wants to learn about the stars. A crab disco ensues, bringing in the audience for some pinchy hands and clapping.

My Friend Selkie offers a charming introduction to Scottish folk tales, landscape and music for the littlest of kids. My accompanying child-critic, asked what he liked about it, answered “Everything!” Plus, the highest of all accolades for any show with an audience of children at the festival – no one kicked off.

My Friend Selkie, Assembly @ Dance Base, run ended